MAP master’s student receives international recognition for artwork

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: October 9, 2020 5:00 a.m.

Hugs 2.0 was the installation that earned Jennifer Shelly Keturakis a 2020 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center
Hugs 2.0 was the installation that earned Jennifer Shelly Keturakis a 2020 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center Photo: courtesy of Jen SK

Jennifer Shelly Keturakis, or Jen SK as she’s known in art circles, has added another honour to the long list of awards and accomplishments she’s amassed during her artistic career. Shelly Keturakis, a master’s student in the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance (MAP), is the recipient of a 2020 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center, in New Jersey for her work Free Hugs 2.0. The installation was one of the pieces in her graduating exhibition Functional Limitations which was on display at the Fifth Parallel Gallery earlier this year.  

Jen SK works on her MFA thesis
exhibition Functional Limitations.
Photo courtesy of Jen SK

The award is a symbol of overcoming adversity for  Keturakis whose yarn art practice emerged in 2009, a dark time in her life when she was so ill she was bedridden for several months.

“I really threw myself into making blankets for loved ones so I could cope,” she says. “I continued to crochet once my mobility increased.” 

Free Hugs 2.0 is a multi-material, abstract installation made of yarn, plaster, wire, styrofoam, and rope. Hers was one of 217 student applications from more than 100 college and university sculpture programs from across North America and around the world. There were only 12 students who received the award this year. In 2014, while an undergraduate student,  Keturakis received the same award for her installation Core in a group graduating student exhibit called Art X.

“My health drove Free Hugs 2.0,” she says. “It drove my use of yarn and became a reliable medium during times of decreased motion ability. This exhibit is my determination not to quit, and shrink myself small because I am no longer a typical able-bodied person. Functional Limitations represents myself accepting my daily lived experiences as ‘my own normal’ rather than internalizing a label that is meant to place me as being permanently at a disadvantage by a typical comparison.”

Part of her art practice has focused on “yarnbombing,” which is part street art, part graffiti, and part activism. It combines the comforting elements of knitting and crocheting, with the civil disobedience of graffiti in order to make an artistic statement. Her current yarnbombing piece, called Covid Cheer. Faking it, Making it is on display in her yard. It consists of a very bright window installation and a colourful yarnbombed tree in her front yard. 

“In 2010 the Dunlop Art Gallery hosted Yarnbomb the Rock Garden event. This is where I first heard about yarnbombing and I was so excited to participate. I made this 12-foot tall blue freeform crochet waterfall, which was promptly stolen,” she reports. “I have loved yarnbombing ever since. When I transferred to the University of Regina as an undergraduate student I was enthusiastic about incorporating yarn into my art practice somehow. Thankfully my professor, Sean Whalley, was, and is, really supportive of this.” 

Whalley says that while other sculpture students have incorporated cloth or yarn into their practice, Shelly Keturakis’ commitment to the medium sets her apart. 

“There have been several students in sculpture that have been keen on soft mediums, such as cloth or yarn,” he says. “To have a student that is as dedicated to crocheting and yarn, with Jen's single-mindedness, is very, very rare.” 

The International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award was established in 1994 to recognize young sculptors and encourage their continued commitment to the discipline, as well as to recognize the award recipients' faculty sponsors and their institutions.

Jen SK’s MFA thesis exhibition,
Functional Limitations.
Photo courtesy of Sean Whalley

The 12 award recipients will participate in an online exhibition from Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2020 and a virtual reception will be held in conjunction with the exhibit in November. The artists' work will also be featured in the January/February 2021 issue of the International Sculpture Center's award-winning publication, Sculpture Magazine.

“This award recognizes the achievement of a very talented student but it also is a testament to the quality of mentorship and instruction in the Department of Visual Arts,” says MAP Dean, Rae Staseson. “The support that is given to our students to help them realize they are indeed artists of note, is exciting and honestly does not always happen in other programs.” 

Shelly Keturakis comes by her love of yarn honestly. She can trace her family’s tradition of knitting and crocheting back more than five generations.

“All of my cousins, my aunt, mother and grandmother all presently knit and, or, crochet,” she says. “It is wonderful when we all get together; we are all so different and connect by knitting in our grandmother's living room.” 

Shelly Keturakis has exhibited in galleries in Regina, Saskatoon, Arizona, New York, Calgary, and New Jersey. She has also completed several residencies across Saskatchewan. She will complete the requirements for her master’s degree early in 2021.

To view
Shelly Keturakis’ and the other recipients’ artwork, click here.